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Lunchboxmafia: How to make a lunch they can’t refuse

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Her Instagram account is filled with ideas that will satisfy both kids and adults alike.

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Jenny wants you to make a lunch they can’t refuse.

The New Port Richey resident is the creator of the Instagram account @Lunchboxmafia, where she posts lunch-packing inspiration for her more than 29,000 followers. (She asked that we use only her first name for privacy.)

Pizza biscuits. Buffalo chicken empanadas. Peach, blackberry, and goat cheese flatbreads. A week of green lunches for St. Patrick’s Day. Just scrolling through her Instagram feed, your mouth starts to water.

Which is the whole point. If you’re in the habit of eating restaurant lunches during the workday or paying for your kids to eat school cafeteria food, Jenny wants to show you a better way—one that’s often less expensive, healthier and, with—her tips—more delicious.

Most of the colorful lunches on Jenny’s social media feed are for her 12-year-old daughter, Jazzy. For a long time, Jenny traveled for work and wasn’t at home to prepare Jazzy’s lunch. So three years ago when Jenny changed jobs, she started making up for lost time by lovingly preparing lunches for herself, her husband and Jazzy.

“It’s the only meal that we don’t have together, so I want to make it special,” Jenny says.

Here are Jenny’s tips for packing a better lunch, whether it’s for a family member or you’re investing in your own self-care.

Know your why: Perhaps you want to save time, money and calories by avoiding the temptation to eat out with coworkers. Maybe you want your kids to have a healthier relationship with food. For Jenny, every lunch is an expression of love. “My passion comes from who I’m feeding. I’m passionate about my family. I love to entertain,” Jenny says. “Food is a love language to me.”

Make it special: Even if it’s just for yourself, put some care into preparing your lunch.“Treat it like that special meal—you know like if you’re entertaining someone, you want everything to look really nice,” Jenny says. “Do it for yourself.”

Get the right gear: Stock up on lunch boxes, food containers, thermoses, ice packs, water bottles, sporks, food picks and whatever else you’ll need. Keep these items dedicated for lunch, so the meal will feel more special.

Start with the obvious: “You want to start with foods that you love—foods that you enjoy regularly,” Jenny says.

Some like it hot: Dinner leftovers are a no-brainer. If you’re grilling chicken, make extra for lunch. Also invest in a thermos for kids, who don’t have the luxury of reheating food at school.

Play it cool: For cold lunches, sandwiches are only the beginning. Consider pasta salad, potato salad or DIY Lunchables, which are a great way to get kids to eat a variety. Keep things exciting with a variety of pretzel crisps, sesame breadsticks, deli meats, smoked jerky, fruits, veggies and cheeses.

Make it fun: Kids love food on a stick. Find cute food picks, like you’d use for a party, and fill them with colorful fruits, veggies and cheese cubes.

Remember the smell test: Jenny likes to pack boiled eggs with everything bagel seasoning, but that’s about as far as she’ll go. Avoid packing stinky foods that’ll embarrass your child or annoy your colleagues.

Avoid soggy bottoms: For sandwiches, pack condiments in a separate container. For salads, put the dressing in the bottom of the container or jar, then mix when you’re ready to eat. Not only will this prevent soggy bread or salad greens, but it’ll make the food look more appetizing, so you’ll actually want to eat it. The same principle applies to baked goods: Let them come to room temperature before you pack them, so they’ll look and taste their best.

Involve the kids: When making lunch for kids, give them options: “Tomorrow for lunch, do you want a sandwich or salad? Carrot sticks or cucumber slices?” And have them help with age-appropriate meal prep, such as rinsing off fruit. Come lunchtime, they’ll be more likely to eat what you packed if they have some skin in the game.

Get inspired: Use your kids’ school menu for inspiration. For pizza Fridays, Jennypremakes pizza rolls, freezes them and takes them out for an entree that’s similar to what the cafeteria is serving, only better. “Kids really like to eat what their friends are eating,” she says.

Everything in moderation: If you’re packing treats, then skip sugary drinks in favor of water infused with fruit, cucumber or mint.

Have a plan: Whether you make lunch the night before or the morning of, have a strategy. You can make a chicken in the slow-cooker or precut many fruits and veggies well in advance, but some tasks should be reserved for the last minute. Wash berries too soon, and by lunchtime they’ll be a soggy mess.

Pack snacks: In addition to making lunch, bring snacks so you won’t be tempted to hit the vending machine.

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